Bathing Suit Rules for Moms

Taking on body issues, trash-talking and modesty at the local swimming hole.

It was a bad night at the community pool. Bad because there were black clouds creeping overhead. Bad because it was less than 70 degrees out, which meant no one over 12 years old had pretended to put even a toenail in that water, heated or not.

However, the fact that this was a private party for all of the families in our South Jersey elementary school—m­eaning that everyone there knew everyone there—made the whole scene extra-bad for poor first-grade mom Debbie, who had a choice.

Her son Eliot isn’t a very strong swimmer. And he was begging to be released from the confines of the baby splash pool into the “big pool,” where his pals were doggie-paddling away. Trouble was, he couldn’t go it alone. Debbie had worn her bathing suit, which was more than could be said of 90 percent of the parents there—including her husband John, who was no-way-in-hell going to take off his Captain America t-shirt after viewing some of the buff and the not-even-kinda-buff dads who had paraded shirtless at the pool the previous summer. That left Debbie alone and debating: To disrobe, or not to disrobe?

Of course, she had no choice, because mothers will do amazing things for their children, like running into burning buildings to save their lives, and stripping down to near-underwear-level in public so they can swim. As Debbie pulled down her skirt to reveal her very modest black one-piece halter suit, she smiled in that way you do when a very old relative informs you that you look like you’ve gained weight, and you want to appear as if you couldn’t care less, as if you won’t need six months of follow-up therapy as a result. Then Debbie ran … ran … to the pool. “A mad dash” is how one mother who was there later described it to another mother who wasn’t, someone who also knows Debbie, who lives on the same street as Debbie, who can see Debbie’s front door from her own front door. Debbie’s solo strip-down had become, as they say, the talk of the town.

“I’m generally a positive person,” Debbie explained to me at school drop-off the next day. “But exposing these thighs to the general public? Not so much.”

Except this crowd wasn’t exactly the general public. The Shore? That’s the general public, which is why it’s such a non-issue for so many there to casually reveal regions that couldn’t get any more nether. Neither you nor those gloriously anonymous people on the blanket next to you care that the teeny bikini you strapped onto your Mack Truck self squeezes out your parts like those balloon animals clowns make.

“The community pool?” Debbie reflected. “It’s just … weird.”

It’s weirder than weird. Because already, we’ve spent the whole year with each other, running into our neighbors at the cheap gas station, and at the hot-dog stand at the farmers’ market, and on the playground after school. We sit next to each other at PTA meetings, and run the BreastFest 5K together, and wait in line together for the moon bounce at the fire station’s open house. We work really hard not to be (or to appear not to be) crappy parents, so we co-chair the school auction and co-coach the pigtail softball team and co-mingle along H­addon Avenue during the Halloween parade.

Then the Crystal Lake Pool opens.

And we all gather there together … and take off our clothes.